Avicanna CEO, Aras Azadian, on Defining the Medical Cannabis Market
This article is brought to you in paid partnership with Avicanna
In 2000, courts ruled that Canadians have a constitutional right to use cannabis as medicine. However, two decades later and there is still some stigma that lies around cannabis use in the medical industry. The CEO of Avicanna, Aras Azadian, is determined to put an end to it.
Avicanna is a Canadian biopharmaceutical company that specializes in developing and commercializing cannabinoid (compounds found in cannabis, like THC or CBD) based products. Azadian believes that the key to putting an end to the stigma around medical cannabis, is making a clear distinction between recreational and medical uses.
So, Avicanna is doing just that.
“I believe that there is a misconception that all cannabis companies are in the same industry,” said Azadian. “Companies, such as Avicanna, continue to advance our research and development as a part of our long-term vision.”
This long-term vision, coupled with an evidence-based approach and clinical testing, has Azadian guiding Avicanna to become a leader in the medical cannabis industry.
One way Avicanna is doing this is through their new RHO Phyto line. The product line which features products that are oral (e.g. sprays and capsules) and topical (e.g. gels and cream) based, is able to harness and measure the benefits of cannabis in a way that cannot be done through inhalation methods.
Having spent the majority of his career in the biotech sector, Azadian is focused on innovating the industry and ensuring that Avicanna will provide cannabinoid-based medical products “with pharmaceutical quality standards and produce the evidence to help educate patients and medical communities.”
For this week’s Entrepreneur of the Week spotlight, Bay Street Bull spoke with Aras Azadian about defining the medical cannabis industry and leading the future of cannabinoid-based medical products.
In a nutshell, tell us your story. You have a background in finance and biotechnology. How did you come to co-found Avicanna?
I had spent most of my professional career consulting or working in the biotech sector where I obtained experience in R&D (research and development) and clinical development pathways. As a Toronto-based executive, I was well aware of the emergence of the cannabis sector. After meeting several of the original Licensed Producer CEOs, I quickly realized the massive gap in the industry which would require dedication to R&D and an evidence-based approach for demonstrating the safety and efficacy of cannabinoids. I also understood that the medical community would be even less accepting of cannabinoid-based solutions in the treatment of some of their patients without the necessary evidence. In learning more about this sector, I had the good fortune of meeting our other two co-founders, Setu Purohit and Kyle Langstaff, who believed in the same vision and opportunity. The rest is history.
What questions do you think all entrepreneurs should ask themselves before building a company? What did you ask yourself as a guiding purpose when building Avicanna?
Do you believe in the vision enough to dedicate your life to it? Do you believe in the opportunity enough to dedicate your own and other’s investments to it? And do you have the support team in your life and what it takes to survive the incredibly difficult path of being an entrepreneur?
How do you hope your company and research change the cannabis market? What gap does Avicanna aim to fill?
We are demonstrating the needed separation between medical and recreational cannabis and are adding the quality standards and scientific evidence that the medicinal cannabis sector desperately needs. We have taken a sophisticated drug development approach to our formulations and collaborate with world renowned clinicians at leading clinical institutions to study the efficacy of those products across several disease areas. The potential of cannabinoid-based medicine is very real, and we have the opportunity as industry leaders to fortify Canada’s leading role in the future of the sector.
In terms of cannabinoid medical research, what is your company hoping to establish or accomplish?
Firstly, we aimed and accomplished the objective of using research to provide patients and the healthcare community with more advanced, consistent and non-inhalation medical cannabinoid products. We intend to extend this pipeline into additional delivery forms. Currently our research is focused on identifying which cannabinoid solutions are the most appropriate for specific disease and symptom management – this is accomplished through preclinical research, real world evidence and pharmaceutical trials. The ultimate goal will be to provide natural cannabinoid-based medical products to patients globally with pharmaceutical quality standards and produce the evidence to help educate patients and medical communities.
Why do you believe the growth of cannabinoid research has been so stunted despite legalization?
I believe that there is a misconception that all cannabis companies are in the same industry. Companies, such as Avicanna, continue to advance our research and development as a part of our long-term vision. Other predominantly recreational companies never aimed to do research and evidently spent very little of their resources to do so. The other contributing factor is that the early investors which were generally retail and commodity investors did not support the research and wanted the companies to instead focus on extending their square footage and output, the result of that is of course the lack of research but also over supply. This meant that companies like Avicanna had a harder time sticking to our vision and raising funds as we were limited to sophisticated and strategic investors.
How do you define success?
Professionally, success for me is leading a company that is sustainable, that adds significant value to all its stakeholders and is accomplishing its vision of having a positive impact in the world. I believe we are on the right track for accomplishing all of that in Avicanna.
Best advice you have received in your career and how would you advise a young entrepreneur looking to revolutionize an industry?
Do not underestimate exogenous factors in how it may impact your business chances to fail or succeed. Economic conditions, industry trends, and investor sentiments change and as an entrepreneur it’s important to be aware of those and in many ways try to stay ahead of them.
When was a pivotal moment in your trajectory?
Towards the end of last year, the ultra-hyper growth part of the cannabis sector went up in smoke mainly due to poor execution of the larger Canadian licensed producers. This was the burst of the industry bubble, which was in many ways similar to the “dot com” bubble burst, where access to capital had been halted and the bearish sentiment would be industry wide. For Avicanna, this was a major challenge as at the time we were a pre-revenue bio-pharma company with a much more complex product offering and therefore route to market versus, for example, a recreational cannabis company which could commercialize a more simple product like dried flower. We had to rapidly evolve and pivot our strategy to make the company more sustainable and less reliant on capital raises—we did so by focusing on commercial initiatives, rationalizing costs and managed to do all of that while staying true to our vision. That pivotal moment which demonstrated our team’s ability to adapt rapidly and transform Avicanna into a developmental stage biopharma company that earns revenue and is on a trajectory to be profitable in the short term is remarkable and a true point of pride for us.